When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was consumed by a crushing weight of debilitating thoughts. These thoughts, like a herd of stampeding buffalo, ran rampantly through my mind. I didn’t know how to corral them. I didn’t know how to calm them. And I didn’t know how to prevent them from running wild again. Conventional treatment, such as chemotherapy, was recommended to combat the disease. But what would combat my crippling fear? What could I do to treat my mind? And how could I help my body recover from the physical side effects brought on by chemo?

I began looking into holistic therapies; healthcare interventions that would improve my psychological and physical needs. Through yoga, prayer and meditation, I found and implemented practices that helped me focus on complete healing; that helped me maintain a sense of balance throughout my journey; and that – to this day – continues to keep my mind from being pummeled again by a herd of harmful thoughts.

This type of philosophy, the one behind holistic therapies, is something that can also help addicts with their road toward recovery.

According to the American Addiction Centers (AAC), research shows that personal satisfaction during rehabilitation motivates an individual to not only stay in treatment, but maintain long-term recovery, as well.

Considered to be alternative or complementary treatments, holistic programs – when combined with medically supervised detox and mental health counseling – can support treatment in many ways. The AAC says it can help with:

  • Physical symptoms of addiction and withdrawal
  • Emotional imbalance that can lead to substance abuse
  • A lack of spiritual grounding
  • Unhealthy eating habits, resulting in neurochemical imbalance
  • Environmental toxins or contaminants

At its core, holistic treatments are designed to treat the whole person; to improve their overall well-being, rather than target a single element of an individual’s symptoms or behaviors. Therefore, the AAC suggests that a holistic approach should ideally aim to curtail isolated addictive behaviors, and to adequately address a broad set of factors that play a role in the development of the addiction.

Today’s approach to addiction treatment doesn’t just have to be a 12-step program. Treatment can be far more diverse.

An article published by U.S. News and World Report discusses the therapeutic benefits of the following holistic therapies for people with substance abuse disorders:

Yoga – A Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline of pairing breathing with specific bodily postures, yoga helps reduce stress levels, stress-related symptoms of pain, anxiety and/or depression. Yoga regulates stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. And since addiction can manifest when an individual turns to drugs in an effort to numb the emotional pain, yoga can prove to be especially beneficial.

Yoga is also known to increase the “feel good” neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) – which tends to be low in people with addiction – resulting in improved mood and brain chemistry.

Meditation – Is when an individual practices the state of “mindfulness.” It involves tuning into one’s experience of the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensation. It is a technique that entails passively observing fleeting feelings without reacting to them. Thus it helps with impulse control, and, in turn, reduces the rate of relapse.

Regular meditation can also improve brain health. In fact, a team of Harvard researchers found that approximately 30 minutes of daily meditation over a period of eight weeks resulted in improved brain changes, specifically in the regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress (some of the same areas that are altered due to addiction).

Art Therapy – A technique that has been around since the 50’s, art therapy has unearthed multiple benefits for people in early stages of recovery, which include:

  • Reducing denial and opposition to treatment
  • Providing a healthy outlet for communication and expression of one’s feelings
  • Decreasing stigma-related shame
  • Motivating positive behavioral change
  • Facilitating group discussions and relational connections

Rehabilitation centers are now incorporating art therapy as part of treatment to encourage patients to seek spiritual self-exploration and creative expression.  

Massage Therapy – Is a type of treatment in which a trained and certified medical professional manipulates the soft tissues of the body. It’s benefits are essential, especially to people experiencing physical symptoms of withdrawal. It has been evidenced to:

  • Boost mood, including levels of serotonin and dopamine (two neurotransmitters that govern positive mood)
  • Promote relaxation and a reduction in the stress response and levels of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Decrease pain
  • Improve sleep

The aforementioned holistic therapies do not cover the gamut of alternative treatments, but they do highlight the most commonly used ones. Others include: Reiki (or other types of energy work), acupuncture or acupressure, nutritional therapy and herbal medicines.

Addiction is a complex disease. It affects the body, mind and spirit. So incorporating holistic treatments – along with traditional, medically supervised ones – can help you treat and heal your entire self. It can ingrain techniques that you can use for the rest of your life. So if and when you deal with personal setbacks, these holistic modalities will be here for you, helping you cope so you never have to resort to destructive alternatives again. Remember, it’s just not just about healing your body, you have to heal your mind, too.